BBC Radio 7, 13 December 2008
Kenneth Grahame's enduring classic continues to delight readers, listeners and
theatregoers a century after it first appeared. Perhaps this is due to the characterization - good-natured Mole contrasted
with the hale and hearty Rat, the commonsensical Badger and of course the braggart Toad, who experiences a series of comic
misadventures before recovering Toad Hall from the invading hordes of rodents. Or perhaps the book's popularity is due to
its picaresque structure, with each new dramatic set piece presenting further difficulties for Toad (in particular) to negotiate.
Or maybe people respond to Grahame's gentle satire of the progressive spirit, which takes little heed of lasting values
such as friendship and community loyalty. In its modest way The Wind in the Willows is just as critical
of industrialism as Dickens' Hard Times - especially when Toad callously casting aside the horse-drawn
cart (complete with Albert the horse) in favour of a new motor-car.
As I listened to David Blount's radio production of Alan Bennett's adaptation (which
played very successfully at the Royal National Theatre in the 80s and 90s), I understood that The Wind in the Willows
also celebrates Edwardian England - the world evoked in A.E.Housman's "A Shropshire Lad" (broadcast earlier this month on
Radio 4) of verdant landscapes, home comforts and social stability. There are long descriptions of the food Rat incorporates
in the hamper while picknicking with Mole; Mole enjoys the experience of returning to his modest abode, even though it lacks
the luxuries of Rat's house; while Badger falls asleep in front of the fire. Anyone foolhardy enough to challenge this social
order - such as the weasels - is ruthlessly dealt with. Blount confirmed the truth of the old adage that an Englishman's home
is his castle; no one should attempt to usurp it, while the legitimate inhabitants should not venture too far away, if they
knew what was good for them. For Rat, the Wild Wood was clearly off-limits.
This production's endorsement of English virtues was further emphasized by the casting,
which used such reliable names as Richard Briers (Rat), Derek Waring (Badger), Terence Rigby (Albert), Leslie Phillips (The
Magistrate) and Jeffrey Holland (the Engine-Driver). All these television names had great fun delivering Bennett's witty dialogue,
while we, as listeners, could feel secure that we were listening to the kind of top-notch performances characteristic of a
This Wind in the Willows was great fun. In spite of his stated ambition
to change, we knew that Toad (Nickolas Grace) would remain a braggart, albeit a lovable one. Even at the end, when he grudgingly
acknowledge that Toad Hall would not have been recovered without the help of his friends, he still believed it was his
right and privilege to stand up and sing a song. Everyone exclaimed "Oh, Toad!" but made no attempt to restrain him. Even
in Grahame's cosy world, there is still a space for those who dare to be different.